Alphaville’s “Big in Japan” Lyrics Meaning

The 1980s were a time when many of the trending musicians used colorful, oft-elusive metaphors in their songs. And one such case is “Big in Japan”.  Because if a listener never read Marian Gold’s explanation of the lyrics, he or she may never figure out that the subjects of the song are, according to his own words, “a couple of lovers trying to get off ” an illegal substance. We can therefore safely say the lyrics of this song talk about drug addiction. But once that reality comes to light, then some of the allegories used become more understandable. For instance, when the singer states “here’s my comeback on the road again”, such would logically allude to him making yet another attempt to kick this awful habit.

Meaning of “Big in Japan”

Now as for the title, “big is Japan”, simply put it is more or less an idiom. It points to the idea of someone becoming a popular success in a foreign country while remaining relatively-irrelevant in their own homeland. And this type of phrase is commonly used in reference to entertainers, especially the likes of musicians. But stripped down to its most basic form, it means that a person is able to achieve something great away from home that they aren’t able to do in their familiar environs. And such would likely be the case in which Alphaville has applied that saying to the aforementioned narrative.


So all of this considered, perhaps what the singer is suggesting is that he and his romantic should perhaps flee “the Zoo”. And “the Zoo” is actually the colloquial name of a popular drug den in Berlin. And if they are to actually do so they would be “big in Japan”, as in being able to conquer their addiction in a foreign environment. But this is just a probable interpretation as once again the intended relationship between the title and the storyline of the track is not made abundantly clear.

Big in Japan

Facts about “Big in Japan”

Warner Music released “Big in Japan” in January of 1984. It was the lead single from Alphaville’s first album, “Forever Young”. In fact this track was an unexpected success that blew up before the band had even finished writing the rest of the songs that were eventually featured on that project.

Alphaville also dropped some remixes of this track in 1992.

Ironically it seems “Big in Japan” didn’t chart in the Land of the Rising Sun itself (Japan). However, the song did top the Eurochart Hot 100, the Official German Chart (where it was also certified Gold), the Sverigetopplistan (Sweden), the Schweizer Hitparade (Switzerland) and Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play list (USA). This is in addition to charting in 11 other countries. And in most of those nations “Big in Japan” also made it onto the top 10.

Moreover, “Big in Japan” was also moderately successful when it was covered by a German rock band called the Guano Apes in 2000.

Who wrote “Big in Japan”?

“Big in Japan” was written by Alphaville’s lead singer Marian Gold. But Marian didn’t write the song alone. He wrote it with his band mates, Bernhard Lloyd and Frank Mertens.

And the track was produced by two of their regular collaborators, Colin Pearson and Wolfgang Loos.

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